Bringing perpetrators of mass violence to book - or not

To what extent are the perpetrators of mass killings, such as those that took place in central Nigeria’s Plateau State recently, held accountable for their actions?

The director of a local NGO, League for Human Rights, Shamaki Gad Peter, told IRIN those responsible for violence typically go unpunished.  “Most of those arrested are usually minors who cannot be legally subjected to such criminal prosecutions. Many of the suspects arrested say they have sponsors but at the end of the day, the sponsors are neither prosecuted nor their names disclosed to the public.”

He continued: “The accused are poor people who struggle to feed themselves but [yet have] access to AK-47 rifles which sell at around US$2,000 [on] the black market. Where do these poor people get these guns? They must have sponsors.”

Past investigations on inter-communal violence have been non-transparent, yielded few concrete results and have perpetuated impunity, according to legal experts and rights groups.

Plateau State has been the site of recurrent religious, ethnic and land conflicts for more than a decade.

In November 2008, the security forces arbitrarily killed at least 130 people without facing punishment, according to international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang set up an investigation commission in January 2009 to identify culprits and causes of the violence, and to recommend ways to avoid another outbreak of such violence.

Investigations of mass killings in Nigeria

Photo: FAO, UNCS

JOS, Perpetrators of mass killings in Nigeria have largely gone unpunished over the past decade, according to legal experts and human rights groups. Following is a list of some investigations into inter-communal violence that has killed more than 13,000 people since 1999, according to Human Rights Watch. Full report

According to a copy of the commission’s report leaked to local media in early March 2010, the governor - accused of ordering extrajudicial shootings - was exonerated. The report recommended the creation of a reconciliation commission, amnesty for the accused, and the creation of local governments with equal representation of the state’s ethnic groups.

State government representative Dan Manjang told IRIN the leaked report had not undergone review, and was not official. He said the government was “determined to implement the recommendations” of official reports on killings in 1994 and 2001.



But HRW researcher on Nigeria Eric Guttschuss told IRIN past commission recommendations had not resulted in significant change.

“Commissions are a way to be seen as responding to violence, but as time passes and pressure decreases on the government to react, there have been few tangible steps to address the root causes of the violence and to bring to justice perpetrators.”

Local NGO League for Human Rights director Peter told IRIN community tensions have prevented the implementation of recommendations.

“There were some behind-the-scenes attempts by the [state] government to implement some of the recommendations… but it back-pedalled when it gauged the pulse of the communities to these recommendations.”

He said members of the primarily Muslim Hausa ethnic group and Christian communities have accused panels at both the state and federal level of bias.

More than 13,000 people have died in religious, ethnic or land conflicts in Nigeria since 1999 and “impunity continues to breed violence,” according to HRW.